Education

Cedar Rapids' new elementary school plan takes first step, though funding still uncertain

District to select architect, but full project awaits Legislature's call on SAVE tax

Coolidge Elementary School at 6225 1st Ave SW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Coolidge Elementary School at 6225 1st Ave SW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — School district officials plan to select an architect to design a new Coolidge Elementary, the first of 10 elementaries slated to be razed and rebuilt under the district’s facilities plan.

Although funding for the entire plan still is not secured, the initial step was informally approved by the Cedar Rapids school board this week.

The $224.2 million plan relies on an extension of a statewide penny sales tax, known as SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education fund — that expires in 2029. District officials are hopeful the tax, which funds school infrastructure projects, will be extended by 20 years during the next legislative session.

“Let’s get this architect selected, the process underway,” Superintendent Brad Buck told the board at a Monday meeting. “We can do some things with very limited costs.”

The architect will be told the district “may be at a different decision” about whether to build the school at all, dependent on the Legislature’s action on SAVE, Buck said.

If the tax is not extended, the school board would need to consider other funding sources for the facilities plan, which could include a property sales tax-funded general obligation bond.

The district’s current levy rate maxes out at about $211.6 million, district Chief Financial Officer David Nicholson said.

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Buck and school board members agreed to reconsider moving ahead with the facilities plan if SAVE is not extended during the session, which begins in January and is scheduled to end in May.

“I’m in agreement as long as we don’t turn any dirt until we know SAVE has passed,” board member Gary Anhalt said. “Or we’ve moved to a new conversation.”

Beginning the bidding process now puts the district on a “better bidding timeline,” Nicholson said.

“If the SAVE (extension) is approved, we’re ready to go,” School Board President Nancy Humbles said. “ ... The need is there, so we have to start somewhere, and this is a place to start.”

Starting the architect selection process also keeps the district on a timeline that would open a new Coolidge Elementary, 6225 First Ave. SW, in fall 2021.

The district did not provide an estimate of what costs may be associated with hiring an architect.

District officials have said they will meet with Coolidge families and the community in January to discuss plans for the new school, though meetings have not yet been scheduled.

If the plan is funded, new schools would be built over the span of two decades on the sites of Coolidge, Arthur, Cleveland, Erskine, Harrison, Hoover, Jackson, Pierce, Wright and Johnson schools.

Harrison Elementary’s rebuilding comes with “renovation considerations,” and Grant, Hiawatha and Viola Gibson schools would be renovated.

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The remaining eight elementary schools in the district would be closed: Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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